Wellness with Horses

Wellness with Horses

The Most Talented, Beautiful Dressage Pony

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I’ve been working with my two mares fairly regularly for the past week or so. Before that, I had been messing with them off-and-on and mostly spending undemanding/healing time with them. At first, this was due to school, and then once school was over, due to a pretty upsetting occurrence in another area of my life.

As I was riding Cherish the other day, I found her struggling a bit with some exercises that I was experimenting with. There was no pressure – I was just checking to see if they were within our range of possibility in terms of communication and physical capability. She could do them, but it was sluggish. I then noticed that everything was sluggish and delayed, almost mopey, if that isn’t too anthropomorphizing.

I got a picture in my head. I was atop the most beautiful, most talented Dressage pony in the world. Everything was effortless for her, and she was so full of joy and pride that she bounced with each stride. She stood tall, moved well, and had a captivating air about her. I was atop her, helping to guide her, but mostly molding with her, as we rode. Anything that didn’t go quite right, it was because I wasn’t quite asking right.

With this picture, my perspective changed… and my energy… and my approach… and how I responded to things… and even my body.

As you can imagine, the same things began to shift in my horse… the most beautiful, talented Dressage pony in the world.

Within just a few minutes I did have a proud, beautiful, captivating horse beneath me, who could do no wrong but was only responding correctly when I asked just right. Interestingly enough, this became the truth.

Wellness with Horses

Playing with Positive Reinforcement

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For the past few sessions I’ve had with the horses, I’ve been playing with increasing the amount of positive reinforcement I use, and using more aids that are either invisible or almost invisible. If I’m not getting what I’m asking for, I might decrease my idea of 100%, or make it more clear or easier for the horse.

It’s interesting to begin playing with. I’ve only been using a white Dressage riding whip. It doesn’t have a string. Sometimes I’m using the rope halter and lightweight lead (in a cavesson style with the rope connected to a connector piece in the middle of the noseband), but if I do, the rule is that I’m not allowed to pull on it, even if the horse is drifting. I’ve been playing with Cherish without ropes (and in the pasture) quite a bit, but it’s interesting to note that it’s easier for me to help both horses be successful when the line is on. They know its there and are more likely to drift a little bit and stop if they are unsure of something, rather than getting unsure or irritated with what or how I was asking and entirely leaving.

While in a learning phase, this buffer that encourages them to stay with me while I’m playing with the components of how I’m asking and what I’m asking for is extremely helpful.

The only time that I have used the stick more than a slight touch or a tickle was when Hope came in from the circle and just about side-swiped me. This took me off guard a little bit, but I realized that it had occurred only because of what my internal intention and body language were communicating.

Mindfulness, Wellness with Horses

Happy Humans=Happy Horses

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(I would like to note that any mathematical equation can be flipped around, i.e., it could also be Happy Horses=Happy Humans and mean the same thing.)

This is a very clear lesson that my lovely mares have been teaching me lately. Happiness and love come before softness, before connection, and before energy, and before any of those other cool things we can do when we start to communicate.

There are many qualities of pure happiness and love. One of those is complete acceptance, and even utter appreciation, for each other. As the humans, we get to initiate that way of thinking by loving and fully appreciating our horses for what they are… but also knowing that that is not just mediocre, but amazing. For more on this perspective, see my Facebook post – if you type the phrase “I’m learning a new level of self-acceptance.” into the search bar, you should find it immediately.

I have been experimenting with a type of communicating with the horses that involves no pressure. There is no “and… you have to.” at the end. There is no force. I haven’t been using a whip with a string on the end – I’ve been using a (riding) dressage whip while on the ground, for guidance, for encouragement, and as an extension of my arm, meaning I will touch and love on them to tell them they’re awesome or they’re alright if they’re afraid as well. With Hope, I’ve been using a rope (for giving her a feeling of sureness and safety when she gets nervous)… but the rule is, no pressure on the rope, and I have to drift with her. With Cherish, we’ve been at liberty in large, open spaces. If they leave because they’re uncomfortable or not connected, I drop all aspirations at communicating and follow in love and happiness and relaxation.

This has been quite an interesting experiment. It requires allowing them to make choices. It’s been difficult, and especially while using the rope, requires discipline – but it’s also becoming very liberating.

The horses respond not just as well, but so much better, when they feel like they are loved, taken care of, appreciated, and listened to. We are communicating, not in a way of “because I told you so”, but in two-way communication. There is a co-leadership going on, but that co-leadership is full of mutual respect, trust, love, and joy. This kind of communication requires that we take ourselves off of our podiums and become individuals that see our horses as individuals.

I’ll share more as we go along. For right now, happiness and love are all you need.

Wellness with Horses

The Equestrian Limbo

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We all know the limbo. How low can you go?

I’ve been thinking of a different kind of limbo, lately…

How light can you go?

Lightness means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Some may not even have the word in their vocabulary. Some may have the vocabulary down pat, and then you watch them in action and wonder where that word fits into the picture in front of you.

Try something for me:

Imagine you’re riding your horse. You’re riding through a field in perfect harmony. You do a side pass across the field… you come down to a collected trot… you go into a slow, rhythmic canter… now, use your own imagination.

How light can you go? What does real lightness feel like, in your head? Can you get lighter? Now lighter? How many notches down can you imagine that equestrian limbo pole?

What does it take to enable that lightness? What does your body have to feel like? What does your mind have to feel like? What does it feel like to be you, to be that light with your horse? What does your horse feel like?

I could tell you what that feels like to me, or what I picture, but that probably wouldn’t be helpful to you at all. I’m not you. I don’t know what it’s like to live in your body, or your imagining of what you would ideally feel like in your body, or what your horse would ideally feel like in his body, or what it would feel like when the two of you ideally came together in your two ideal bodies.

Just for yourself, and for your horse, just dream a little bit for a while. Just imagine.

After all, you need to know where you might be able to go before you can ever know how to head in that direction.

Wellness with Horses

Bringing the Pieces Together to create a Gift Box

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This morning I played with both Hope and Cherish.

I found myself bringing pieces together from Karen Rohlf’s Module 2 in the Sweet Spot Course, from past and present things I’m learning from Aimee Brimhall McCord, and from doing things in the moment that just “feel right”.

Finding the ground, finding the flow, and finding relaxation, aka, can you even breathe?

This is mainly from Aimee with some of my own adaptations.

I found myself needing to find relaxation first, even before I greeted the horses. I was on my way through the pasture at the fastest and largest walk my legs would allow, aimed right for their little group of three. When I became aware of it, I stopped dead in my tracks and just laughed at myself.

I grounded my feet to the ground. I felt for my balance. I shifted my body some.

I attempted to find a flow of energy – allow it to sink into the ground, and then recycle energy back up through the ground. That didn’t happen at this moment. It allowed me to relax, but any sensations were null.

I then tried to breathe deeply and rhythmically – just to breathe. I couldn’t. It was shallow, it was off beat, and I realized I wasn’t getting enough air. I tried shifting my body around. My ribcage would not expand. All of the muscles around it were contracted, ready for the kill, or something silly like that. Who knows what your body interprets your thoughts to be. The muscles react to intention, not to complex thoughts.

I spent a long time there relaxing. I was greeted by one horse, and then two. They both passed. Time went on. A breeze came, and went. I would find an imbalance, shift to find balance there, and wait. Then I would find a place of tension, slowly move through it and then slowly release it, and wait. This was my gift to myself. “What gift?” you may ask. Breathing. It might just be the greatest gift you could give yourself. It feels pretty darn good to actually FULLY breathe and connect to your body.

After a long while, I had found my breath, I had found balance, I had found the flow of energy cycling through the ground and back up, I had found gratitude, and love, and my bubble, and positivity. I knew the moment I started moving and doing I wouldn’t keep all of this, but this is a big moment – it’s all beginning to come together.

Helping your horse find 100%.

This is from Karen Rohlf’s exercises. I adapted them and experimented as I went along.

I realized while watching that video in Module 2 that I am usually great and fantastic with my horses getting 30% of what I’m asking… hoping… wishing… for. Karen helped me realize that this doesn’t feel good, to me or to the horse. It just feels like a bunch of wishy washy stuff and there’s pressure because you never got it right but at the same time you never feel like you were really successful at anything. Doesn’t that just sound like a fun time?

So, today, I did allow some little pieces of “restart” which had relaxation in them in between the tries toward 100%… but what I did not do is act like it was over and good and we accomplished enough for that day, I guess, sort of, and we can try again tomorrow.

These little pieces of “restart” allowed them to reconnect with me, with their feet, and breathe for just a moment, before we tried again.

When we did get 100%, it was awesome, that was fantastic, did you see how great you did?, and let’s just come together and be buddies and enjoy this wonderful day together.

How you ask for it is 50%…

Some of this was Aimee’s, some if it I may have taken from Ingela, and some of it I adapted and experimented with on my own.

I got her attention, then felt the open space, felt draw into the open space, felt my energy in my body, felt the energy going through the open space, used the very beginning of the movement for walk forward (just a tiny signal in my body), really feel and see her body going forward in that energy, hear the footsteps even, and then, if no response or not enough response, my stick came in, softly but without any nervousness or guiltiness to my swing, saying “this space in front of you is open and ready”.

Often times by the time my stick got to the place where it would have touched, she was already going and it would land on the ground behind her.

This is all very important, because after the first few tries of just asking without making sure I was getting all of these pieces together I realized that I was focusing so much on the space in front that I was actually closing it. I only found this out after my horse went to go forward and then jerked up a little bit, turned around and went the other way, as if she had hit a wall.

In moments like this, I’ve been trying to really ask myself, “What am I doing in my body, preview, intention, and thoughts? What could I do differently? Am I being clear? Am I helping her find the right answer? Do I have a positive attitude? Do I have relaxation?” And I go through a checklist of all those little pieces.

And how you respond once you find it is 50%.

Once we did get 100%, it was “That’s great! Did you see that?!” I would feel warmth and happiness and relaxation flood my body, my feet would connect to the ground for a stop, and I entirely embodied love and joy. Both my girls responded so well to this, and the more we did it, the quicker they would come in to hang out in this peaceful-happy-love shower. (That sounds funny, but it’s the best way I have to describe it.)

They became so excited and ready to do things 100% and get it all the way right, because they knew that there was no pressure, that if they didn’t quite get it we could try again, that it felt really nice to connect, that it was so much fun, and that it was also really nice at the end when they did get it, because then they got to just come in and enjoy the love and peace and happiness. What more could anyone want?

Oh, and how you perceive it is maybe a big part too. We can go up to 150%, right?

When you perceive it in the way I’ve described above – as joyful, helping your horse as much as possible, helping your horse to be successful, connecting, being positive, enjoying yourself, being connected to the ground, to the world, to yourself, your senses, and your horse, and having a “peaceful-happy-love shower”, it’s hard to get negative, it’s hard to put pressure on, and it’s hard to get nit-picky… because you have a clear picture in your mind of what you’re looking for, it’s fair, reasonable, and possible, that’s all your focusing on right now, you’re in complete relaxation with energy, you have set your horse up for success in every way possible, your reinforcement phase is just enough to put the period on the end of the sentence (no exclamation points, and definitely not a lot of them!) and both you and the horse feel great. You can only find this, though, if you’re willing to think about it in this way.

It all comes together into one really nice package – a gift box! That’s my favorite kind of gift.

Wellness with Horses

Smell the Roses, Look at the Trees, and eat some Grass along the way.

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Today, I audited the first day of another clinic with Aimee Brimhall McCord.

I couldn’t help but find myself thinking very forward, very proactively, and with a lot of high level interests and goals in horses, horsemanship, Dressage, bodywork, and wellness.

One of the recurring things that comes up when I get to thinking in this way is the thought of “if I just had a fancier horse…”

This time, though, I had a counter-perspective.

I am so thankful for my horses.

Both Hope and Cherish are teaching me so much.

They can help me find sensitivity, accuracy, and consistency in my internal experience, presence, and communication with horses.

They are both teaching me so much about helping horses develop physical wellness.

They are teaching me to always treasure and continue to build upon the foundation.

These are all such valuable lessons that I need to learn effectively and own consistently before I am ever ready for another partner…

And I know that my next partner will be no more perfect, but more than likely will be the next teacher, with even more difficult and in depth lessons for both our partnership and for me.

So, the next time you feel like you’re getting ahead of yourself…

Appreciate those roses and trees and moments of both challenge and harmony, because where you are right now is where the lessons are learned.

Wellness with Horses

Little Steps to Yes

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Nearing the end of my session with Hope, my mom and I started talking. She was telling me about Karen Rohlf’s Module 2 video in the Sweet Spot course (which I have not had the chance to watch yet). It gave me an idea:      To take the little steps to yes moments.

As we go along, this is in everything we do. Even more now than ever, I realize that I need to be setting everything up with this intention. I want to be happy, and have happy horses that are progressing at a rate that they are happy with… which means I need to take the steps that will set them up for those moments of “Yes! Look how wonderful you are! Thank you so much.”

This means, for the moment, slowing down even a little bit more with Hope.

I’m very happy with how Hope has been improving! Her trot is such an improvement for her, and while it is not always consistent, we are beginning to develop it more consistently… but her expression is tight. She’s not happy – she’s tense, braced, and has a tense/cranky expression… and this doesn’t change very often.

So, I tried less. A lot less. I asked her for a walk, with very light phases, and just allowed her to respond the way she wanted to. I got three very slow, drawn out steps of a walk that looked like she was ready to lay down and fall asleep.

This is what she was willing to give me.

I accepted it. I said a short thank you, touched her neck, and asked again. Just give me whatever you’re willing to give me. I allowed her to show me.

There was a little more this time, but not much.

We played with this for a while. My goal was a medium walk off of a very slight suggestion (we already have very light phases built in). Each time we got a little better, I stopped and thanked her, gave her a moment, and asked again. After about three to four minutes, I got that medium walk, with a happy, relaxed expression, from a horse who was willing and happy to do this with me. Do you know how good that felt? I loved on her and rubbed her, and told her how wonderful she was and thank you.

Do you know what the difference was? Yep. It was all me, my intention, my allowing, and my setting it up for little steps to yes.

So now, we’re going to be setting everything up for little steps to yes…

Little steps to confidence:


(and yes, those are a couple of stacked kiddie potties on top of a garden post)

Little steps to curiosity and asking questions:


And little steps to physical wellness:

img_1460 img_1459  img_1457

Wellness with Horses

Enjoy the Experimenting

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I have started the Sweet Spot of Healthy Biomechanics online course offered by Karen Rohlf with Dressage, Naturally.

I didn’t realize when I signed up just how much experimenting would be going on on a daily basis… and wow, is it fun!

Now that I’ve been experimenting, I’m finding the path to new experiments. In other words, once you start experimenting, the fun just keeps on going.

While experimenting with Hope, I’m beginning to find the pieces necessary to have healthy, fluid movement… and I’m sure now that it is attainable. Now that I’m consistently seeing glimpses, and occasionally big changes, I know that doing Dressage with her will be possible.

(Of course, it will not be the exact “by the book” progression of Dressage, because it will need to be progression of healthy movement, relaxation, balance, energy, and experimentation for Hope. I believe this forced personalized approach is truly a gift, though… because real Dressage should be approached for every individual horse and rider.)

While experimenting with Cherish, I’m beginning to find a new meaning for relaxation. I didn’t even know we were lacking in the relaxation category, but now that I’m beginning to find it, I’m beginning to realize how much relaxation we both need to find and improve on.

With experimenting, so much of it is experimenting from the inside out. What do I mean? I’m often experimenting with how I perceive, approach, and react to things. Karen Rohlf’s program is not just improving horses – it’s improving humans, too… which means me.

I expect that I’ll go deeper and deeper into my understanding of a Wellness Based approach and the how-to in the advancing and developing stages of Wellness Based Horsemanship.